Friday, March 30, 2007

In Addressing the Hostage Crisis, One of the First Steps Must be Publicly Addressing ROE and Force Protection

EU Referendum is reporting:

. . . As more details emerge of the snatch, it has emerged that only two boats were initially used by the Iranians. Video footage has been released by Iranian television showing close-ups of one of the vessels, a small speedboat with a crew of three, armed with what appears to be a single 12.7mm machine gun.

This was hardly a formidable force and one which, with the right assets in place and an alert overwatch, could easily have been seen off. Given the enormous repercussions of the kidnapping – to say nothing of the national humiliation – questions as to how the British service personnel were so easily ambushed now become increasingly urgent.

I had previously posted (see here) that Tony Blair needs to be called to the carpet for this, and the British ROE that allowed this to happen. Tony Blair's bald assertion before Parliment the other day that the ROE would have allowed for Her Majesty's sailors and marines to defend themselves and saying that they made the right decision (see here) is wholly insufficient. The fact is they did not defend themselves. The problem lies in that they saw surrendering without defending themselves as either the appropriate course of action or the only possible course of action.

I do not doubt the bravery of the 15 captured. So the reason for their allowing themselves to be captured must be a systemic one - and that inquiry has to start with the Tony Blair and the ROE. The former First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Alan West,has stated,
British rules of engagement were "very much de-escalatory, because we don't want wars starting ... Rather than roaring into action and sinking everything in sight we try to step back and that, of course, is why our chaps were, in effect, able to be captured and taken away."

It may be that that the British ROE is not as stated above, but rather would have been sufficient in this case, but that an altered ROE was communicated to the sailors and marines. This happened with the U.S. military, with the soldiers at ground level being given more restrictive ROE's by their immediate commanders because the commanders wanted to protect themselves from criticism. General Petraeus handled that by drafting new ROE and that included an order that his ROE could not be altered in any way. See here. In either event, whether the problem is as the Sea Lord has posited, or whether it is in translating the ROE to the troop level, there is a systemic problem that Blair needs to publicly admit and fix - not gloss over with praise for the decision forced upon the 15 sailors and marines.

And two, the commander of the HMS Cornwall needs to disciplined for dereliction of duty. Regardless of the ROE - these were his soldiers and marines and he is responsible for their safety and security. It is bad enough to have to lead troops into combat knowing that, despite your best efforts, some will become casualities. But to not reasonably protect them at all times during their deployment is unforgivable. That this kidnapping came on top of a previous kidnapping in the same place, and following recent warnings that Iran was likely to try and retaliate for the people they have lost in Iraq (see here), only adds more fuel to the fire.

There are several reasons these things need to be done. One, it is a necessary component of the myriad of things that need to be publicized to the mad mullahs that Britain will not tolerate provocative acts like this. Clearly establishing that Britain will fight back at the point of open provocation does not mean open warfare - it means self defense. The policy of de-escalation, if that in fact is the British navy's policy, is counter productive - it is what has allowed this kidnapping travesty. There is no need to provoke the Iranians, but there has to be an absolute line in the sand that the Iranians cannot pass without bloodshed. That line must clearly be drawn at the point of protecting from death or capture those who have volunteered to serve their country. Do you think for a moment that the Iranians would have tried this if they thought the British would fight back? We are much closer now to open warfare with Iran then we would have been had we engaged the Iranians and not let them take hostages.

Two, the troops who volunteer for Her Majesty's military need to understand that they will be supported and protected in the future. That means providing them with ROE that allow them to defend themselves and deploying them so that they can be reinforced or supported by fire in an event such as this kidnapping attempt. This whole situation has got to be horribly damaging to the morale of the British forces. Military leadership demands caring for and protecting one's troops. In the rush to get the hostages back - addressing why this happened and publicly correcting it must be among the top priorities.

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